Projectors vs. TVs: Which is best for your home theater?

Are there reasons to own a projector when big TVs are so cheap? Glad you asked

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Installation

The short answer is that TVs are easier to install. Large TVs may be heavy and little fragile, but they’re simple to place in a home theater set-up and easy to use. Plus, they act as a great unifier for your devices and equipment, since everything plugs directly into the TV itself and, in most cases, is even controlled via the TV’s remote. Unless you’re mounting the TV to a wall, installation is relatively painless. And even if you do opt for the wall-mounted setup, you’ll be able to complete the project on your own. Should you need an installer, their job will be quick and cheap.

Projectors can be complicated, requiring more planning and effort to install. The first issue is your screen. Will you be painting a wall, setting up a free-standing screen, or opting for a motorized screen that will need to be attached to your ceiling or wall? Regardless of the method, you’ll need to be sure you have the necessary space — those screens are big. Then, you’ll need to make sure the projector is correctly positioned, which is a bigger challenge than you might think. In fact, we’re going to suggest you hire a professional installer, or at least do a serious study of our projector installation guide.

Also, you’re going to need to route HDMI cable(s) to your projector or go with wireless transmitters, which adds to cost. And unless you only plan on connecting one or two sources, you’ll want an A/V receiver or at least an HDMI switcher so that you only have to run one HDMI cable up to your projector, but still connect several sources like a game console, Blu-ray player, and cable/satellite box. But there’s more to the story here. Short-throw projectors are becoming more common in 2018, allowing you to set up on a table, or even on the floor, as is the case with LG’s new CineBeam HU80KA 4K UHD projector, which can be easily set on the floor in front of your screen (and looks amazing).

Still, as long as you’ve got a TV console — and you aren’t mounting your set — TVs are the winner here.

Winner: TVs

Sound quality

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TVs are the better choice here, and for one simple reason: TVs actually have speakers, and sometimes decent ones at that. Some projectors include speakers, sure, but they’re usually tiny and tinny, and they’re usually in the wrong place (above and behind you).

On the other hand, we couldn’t forgive ourselves if we didn’t talk seriously about the speaker setup in your home theater — this article is all about finding the best home theater experience for your home, after all. External speakers, subwoofers, and soundbars all exist for a reason. Many TVs will give you OK sound right out of the box, but their primary role is video. If you really want to get the most out of your home theater, whether you’re using a TV or projector, a solid sound system will make a huge difference. If you’re looking for the best possible sound options, give our recommendations for the best soundbars a look, and read our guide to creating a great surround sound setup.

Still, comparing just TVs and projectors, external speakers are almost always a requirement for projectors, while a high-quality TV can handle basic audio needs on its own.

Winner: TVs

Convenience

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If it’s not readily apparent, TVs are the more convenient option. They’re simpler to use, require less planning and effort to set up, you won’t be disrupted by ambient light or objects casting shadows on the screen, and you can rest easy knowing a TV will never go out of focus or dim over time. Plus, it’s not all that difficult to find an affordable smart TV that features built-in streaming capabilities and tons of apps. Few projectors include such features.

There is a growing market for smaller, more easily installed projectors, and even portable projectors, but they still require fiddling with installation. Sure, newer projectors often sport features like adjustable lenses and zoom, and “short throw” projectors only need to be a few inches away from the screen, the fact is that TVs are simply easier to install and use.

Winner: TVs

Overall winner: TVs

If you tally up the points, TVs win by a landslide. No question. Congratulations, TV!

That doesn’t necessarily mean a TV is the best choice for you, though. Throughout the categories, we detailed an ideal projector setup: Blacked out room, wall-sized screen, carefully arranged furniture, and a rocking sound system attached. It’s an involved setup — and a pricey one — but nothing else delivers the cinematic experience of a projector-based home theater. And if that’s what you’re after, some diligence, a little planning, and some patience will deliver a knockout performance that will keep your friends knocking down your door for years to come.

Ready to buy that TV? Read our Best TVs guide, our Best TVs under $1,000, or our Best TVs under $500, depending on your price range. Regardless of whether you go with a projector or a TV, you’ll want the best looking Ultra HD Blu-rays to watch to get the most out of it.

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